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Lakewood Ranch High student finds the perfect space for her astronomic career goals

"I like the whole concept of exploration. It's humanity pushing its limits. It the curiosity. There is going to be another space race. But it's going to be Mars."

Lakewood Ranch High student Kathleen Cravens just returned from an internship sponsored by NASA. (Courtesy photo)
Lakewood Ranch High student Kathleen Cravens just returned from an internship sponsored by NASA. (Courtesy photo)
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If Karyn Cravens wanted her daughter, Kathleen, to pursue her dreams, she didn't need to wish upon a star.

She just needed to show them off.

More than a decade ago, Karyn helped set her daughter's course by taking her out on the front lawn of their Cumming, Georgia, home whenever something unusual was happening in the sky.

"My mom had a star tracking app," said Kathleen, who now is a 17-year-old rising senior at Lakewood Ranch High School. "The app would send notifications when there were different star events, such as shooting stars. We would go out at 2 a.m. to watch a meteor shower."

It wasn't long before Kathleen began waking her mom up for that trip to the front lawn.

"I was the one who would ask to go," she said. "I was fascinated by the stars."

When she was 7, Kathleen Cravens attended Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. (Courtesy photo)
When she was 7, Kathleen Cravens attended Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. (Courtesy photo)

So fascinated that at 7 years old, Kathleen attended the Space Camp at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

While many kids like to go to the fair to ride the Gravitron, where you spin so fast you stick to the walls when the floor drops out, Kathleen's cup of tea was a zero gravity training device which prepares astronauts for a trip into space.

Call it sophisticated spinning.

She came out dizzy, tipsy and astounded.

"That definitely sparked my interest (in space)," she said.

As time progressed, Kathleen absorbed all she could about space, but her desire to be an astronaut gave way to another interest: building things.

"My parents called me 'The Little Tinkerer,'" Kathleen said.

When those interests combined, she began to imagine working on rockets. It intensified when she got to Lakewood Ranch High as a freshman and joined the StellarXplorers Space STEM Program, which is designed to propel students toward an aerospace industry career.

She also has pursued internships the past two years and just returned from a two-week internship — Student Enhancement in Earth and Space Science at the University of Texas' Center for Space Research.

Students worked with scientists and engineers on projects that tasked them with doing research and collecting data. The program is sponsored by NASA's Texas Space Grant Consortium.

More than 1,100 applications for the program were received and whittled down to the 92 students who were selected. The program actually started in May as students worked remotely with scientists until they arrived on site in July.

The trip was testament to the fact experiments don't always go as planned. 

She worked on a weather balloon that was sent 1,000 feet into the atmosphere to test different types of technology. The balloon was supposed to collect data every 50 feet, in which it would stop for 45 seconds. However, the temperature that day was 105 degrees and the heat fried the technology being tested, plus the balloon ripped on the way down.

"We think it overheated," she said.

Nonetheless, Kathleen and her team prepared a presentation that was given virtually to about 3,000 engineers and scientists.

Trial and error will be part of her life once she lands a job following college. She has just begun the application process and is interested in the University of Central Florida, the University of Florida, Auburn University, the University of Alabama and Georgia Tech University.

Georgia Tech is ranked No. 2 in its aerospace program behind only the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Although Kathleen, who lives in Country Club East, isn't sure she eventually will land a job with NASA, she notes that "NASA hired mechanical engineers."

Karyn Cravens isn't worried her daughter won't have options when she decides a career path to follow.

"She is a Renaissance girl," Karyn said, noting her daughter plays saxophone in Lakewood Ranch High's Wind Ensemble and Jazz bands and also is the goalie on the Mustangs' lacrosse team.

She might be one of Lakewood Ranch High's most academically gifted students, but she has a tough streak as well. When she went out for her lacrosse team in junior high, most of the other girls on the team already had their positions. Nobody wanted to play goalie, so that's what she decided to do.

Now during lacrosse season, "I am covered in bruises," she said.

Kathleen, who started competing in robotics when she was 7, noted that if she doesn't land a job in the aerospace industry, having a mechanical engineering degree can give her plenty of other options to satisfy her building desire.

"But I am pretty confident I wanted to work in the aerospace industry," she said. "I think rocket propulsion is cool. It would be great to see a rocket that I worked on getting launched … to see your work going up in space."

And she still goes out on the front lawn to look skyward.

"There was a super moon a few weeks ago," she said. "I went out and watched that about midnight. I though it was really cool."

If she does launch into an aerospace career, the moon isn't likely to be the target.

"I like the whole concept of exploration," she said. "It's humanity pushing its limits. It the curiosity.

"There is going to be another space race. But it's going to be Mars." 


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